I’ve always had a huge fear of public transport. Public transport used to be a massive no from me. Catching a bus, train or taxi was a struggle for me to do with friends and I wouldn’t dare do it by myself.
I got called snobby, spoilt or weird by a lot of people when I told them about my fear. I remember, the fear started out when I was in Year 7, not long after my dads death. Agoraphobia usually starts with a stressful event and can make someone distressed, which can lead to them limiting their contact with the outside world for a reason such as they might think it is unsafe. I can’t pin point the exact reason it started for me but I remember seeing news reports on bus bombings, train crashings, taxi drivers raping their customers and other horror stories. I think that definitely had a influence.
Agoraphobia is a anxiety disorder. It’s where you avoid situations or places where you might feel enclosed, trapped or being in open spaces. My agoraphobia was mainly public transport (it effects other aspects of my life but I will mention them a bit later in the article).
Reasons why I used to fear public transport:
– Confined Space. Being in a confined space can sometimes feel constricting for me especially on public transport. If something was to go wrong how am I supposed to escape? If the train was to flip over how am I supposed to escape? If someone takes everyone hostage on the bus, how am I supposed to escape? Honestly the questions are never ending.
– Strangers. Social anxiety is bad enough as it is. Mix social anxiety with agoraphobia and stick yourself on public transport and you’ve got a panic attack waiting to happen. Being in a confined space filled with strangers was just terrifying (this is why I was usually better getting public transport with friends rather than by myself). To make agoraphobia worse you have a stranger controlling the vehicle. They control where you go and the speed you go. Well what if they decide not to take me to my destination? Then what will happen to me? Or what if they go to slow and I end up being late? Then I’ll feel awful and I’ll have to rush around. Or what if they go too fast and end up crashing?
– Lack of control. This is a mixture of things. It’s the lack of control over the people on the transport. What if one of them was to turn violent? (And then starts the questioning of how I’m supposed to escape that). Then there’s the lack of control over the driver. I have no say in where they decide to take us.
It has always been hard to explain this to others as I know myself I am overthinking a situation (joys of having anxiety). It’s the snowball effect once again.
I remember way back in 2013 I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and I decided to get the train from my house into Manchester…on my own. This was something that I had planned to do several days beforehand. I was shitting myself to be honest but I was determined to get through it. I was fed up of feeling confined to just my surrounding estates, I was fed up of people making comments about my fear and I wanted to gain some more independence for myself. The train ride into town from mine is roughly half an hour which in reality isn’t long at all but I knew it would feel like ages. I got the train late in the morning, I sat down, stuck my ear phones in and tried to zone out. I could feel the panic building up inside of me but I tried my best to keep it contained. I managed to arrive safely into town but the fear I had on the train stuck with me and I went into panic mode. There were people everywhere, there was noise, confusion and busy lifestyles all around me. I went into panic mode. I began to frantically message my friend K who managed to ring me. By this point I was desperately trying to search for a quiet place in town (which is almost impossible in Manchester). I had sweat pouring down my face, I could feel the heat radiating from me, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, I felt like all eyes were on me. It was honestly such a awful experience. I was filled with so much confusion. I had been in town for maybe 20 minutes and I just wanted to go home and be in the safety of my bed. K helped calm me down and I sat down at a bus stop trying to regulate myself again. After a while I calmed down and K convinced me to do a bit of shopping and then go home, that way I would have been in town for a bit longer than an hour and my trip would have been somewhat worth it. So I went to two shops. One shop being Boots to buy some dry shampoo to try and make my hair not look so greasy/sweaty and to buy some deodorant to try and cover up any smell of sweat and the other shop being MissSelfridge where I treated myself to some jeans. I left the shops, and went straight to the train station, got on my train and left. I was shattered, absolutely knackered. I arrived home and went back to bed. I was mentally exhausted.
Another joyful time I have had on public transport was back when I had a boyfriend. I had gone to his for the weekend and my mum had managed to drop me off there (he lived about 45-60 minutes away from my house) but she couldn’t pick me up…so I had to get the train home. Fuck. I got dropped off at the train station and I went into panic mode, but this panic mode was tears. I cried. I had no one with me and no one was available for a phone call so I just stood there trying not to make it obvious that I was crying because if someone asked me if I was alright I would most definitely have gone into panic mode. I managed to keep myself contained and I instantly felt safe when my mum was waiting to pick me up when I arrived at my destination but that’s another experience which has stuck with me.
When I had tried to confide in others about my fear it was never respected or understood and to be honest I didn’t quite understand it myself either. It wasn’t until I went through my online counselling where I began to understand that this fear wasn’t irrational or stupid. It all comes back to my anxiety. I didn’t ever discuss this during my one to one counselling sessions so I never actually felt as though I worked through it. It wasn’t until I went to Australia where I really realised that I had pretty much moved on from my fear. I went on a couple of train journeys that were 2.5-4 hours long on my own. I got Ubers on my own, when I returned home I got a taxi home from the airport, caught the bus into town on my own as well as several trains into town on my own as well. I still have those little panic moments where I can feel my heart begin to race and my body temperature rise but I am able to control it a lot better now.
I wouldn’t say my fear of public transport has been cured but it definitely isn’t anywhere near as bad as what it used to be. I have confidence in myself to get the train into town or to get a taxi on my own and it’s the reassurance I have in myself that helps me do those things.
My agoraphobia is still very much here. There were times where I could only leave the house for work and that’s only because I had to. As well as public transport my agoraphobia makes me fear:
– Waiting in lines
– Shopping centres
– Petrol stations
– Multi-story car parks
– Busy bars/restaurants
– Anywhere that is new to me
I never really understood why I had this fear of going to these places, especially on my own. My counselling helped me realise that I wasn’t being stupid or irrational. I wasn’t just being spoilt and expecting my mum to take me everywhere. There was something legit going on in my head and it was something that actually made sense to me.
The biggest help I had was being able to understand anxiety as a whole. If I was out in public and had my ear phones in I would listen to meditation music to help keep me calm and focus on myself, especially my breathing, rather than focusing on every single thing that was going on around me. I also needed to take baby steps. Throwing myself straight into the deep end didn’t do me any good, I had to slowly work my way out of my comfort zone and it has paid off. My comfort zone is bigger than what it used to be a couple of years ago and I have more reassurance in myself than I have ever had before.
Anxiety doesn’t define you as a person. You aren’t your anxiety (trust me, I know how cliché that sounds), your anxiety is something that just goes on in your head. It’s not your personality, it’s not how you are as a person. It is not you.
Just take your time with it. Learn about it and slowly begin to take your own baby steps to coping with it.
You’ve got this!
Sending my love to you all,